A BROADCASTER'S NOTEBOOK
1 - FANS LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT THEMSELVES: And why wouldn't they? It seems it's become something of a badge of honour to stick with the Saskatchewan Roughriders this year through one of their most painful, agonizing seasons in history. For instance, everyone's still wearing their Rider gear around the province and no one's unscrewing their Roughrider license plates. The Riders haven't had one game where less than 30,000 tickets have been sold. It's something Rider coach Bob Dyce said the coaching staff has discussed amongst themselves all season long.
"Oh without a doubt," Dyce said on Wednesday. "There's other places you could be and the team wouldn't have this type of support. I've been blessed to be here for six years and you still can't take (the support) for granted. For the majority of the time we've been here we've been pretty successful and you have an expectation, or you almost expect the crowds to be like this. To see the fans here, through a challenging time like this, to the new guys especially, they're like 'Wow this is outstanding'.
"We've gone to places where the fans haven't been there and the teams have been more successful. So yeah, we talk about it and obviously have great respect for them."
We're all learning as we go. 1-11 is new for everyone and I feared there would be fan apathy and we'd have to switch direction on our radio and TV shows here in the fall. However that has not been the case, and our programs have remained fun and entertaining, I'm told.
2 - ROCK ON: Roughriders GM Jeremy O'Day labelled Dyce as a "Rock Star" for the way he's dealt with the tough circumstances surrounding the club since he took over as head coach prior to Labour Day. Global's Derek Meyers asked Dyce on Wednesday if he sees himself the way O'Day does.
"Ummm no," Dyce laughed. "I didn't know (he said that). Hopefully I'm more of a Mick Jagger than a Jimmy Hendrix, meaning I'm around a bit longer!"
Dyce is no dummy and it's clear he's been able to keep his head when those around him could be losing theirs. It's a solid trait for any coach.
3 - THE FACE OF THE FRANCHISE: In the absence of quarterback Darian Durant, 8-year veteran receiver Weston Dressler has been thrust into the role of the franchise's face. On the plus side, Dressler's jersey sales have soared but on the minus side, the diminutive ball-catcher has been the one facing the tough questions from reporters day-after-day. You can just see the pain in his eyes as he describes what the team's going through, and struggles to find new ways to say the same things.
"It's tough," Dressler admitted on Wednesday. "I don't particularly like talking to you guys everyday. When we're losing it's hard to answer all of the questions and I wish I had better answers for you guys. If we had more answers or had all the answers, we'd be winning more games. The important thing for us is we have to keep working at it and understand that the work we're putting in is going to help us win some games here."
4 - A FINE CHAP: When Jacques Chapdelaine was hired in December as the Roughriders' new offensive coordinator, we were warned by Vancouver football and media types that Jacques is very wary of the media and doesn't view us as "his friends". However I was content to reserve judgment and 12 games into this season, I'm happy to report he's displayed no such traits.
After that 35-13 loss in Ottawa in August, Chapdelaine used an eight minute media scrum the following week to explain why they weren't using running back Jerome Messam more and that injuries caused confusion in their goalline offensive package that game which caused them to take what appeared to be an embarrassing timecount violation.
On Wednesday in an off-air conversation where we prepped for a live radio interview later in the day, Jacques told me that years ago he would've taken offense to my question of, 'The fans want to know why you're not using Messam more?' but at this stage in his coaching career he now sees interviews as an opportunity to get things off his chest and explain the methods to his madness. He now relishes that chance.
In fact in that original scrum weeks ago, Chapdelaine said, "We hear the fans. We really do and we'd like to use Jerome more. Unfortunately the other teams know we want to use him more as well and they game plan against it."
On 620 CKRM's Coaches Show on Wednesday, we asked Jacques how a last-place team could have the #1 offense in the CFL? He was quick to point out that they no longer own the top offense but when things were running well, there was so much talent available at his disposal that no matter what he pulled out of his play bag, his players were able to execute it nearly flawlessly. He also noted that when Kevin Glenn replaced the injured Darian Durant, there was virtually no drop-off in production.
5 - BACK TO THE WEIRDNESS: Scruffy pointed out that this has been a very odd year for Regina sports teams. The drama surrounding the Rams with the ouster of Frank McCrystal and the infusion of Mike Gibson has been gut-wrenching at times, even if no one knows about it outside the football community.
The Rider situation has obviously been strange too, with the first double-firing since 1986 and even back then it wasn't mid-season. But the players have not only not turned on each other, but they've shown a strong desire to remain a part of the program. (Take for instance centre Dan Clark's contract extension this week and quarterback Kevin Glenn's assertion that he has no interest in being traded to Hamilton and he remains committed to Saskatchewan for 2015 and beyond).
In many ways, you'd have no idea that this club is 1-11. However when you look at it 'big picture', the franchise remains in a critical situation and the impending "double-hiring" will be one of the most poignant landmarks in franchise history.
Scruffy pointed out the only team without the "weird factor" this year is the Regina Pats, but we'll get to that further down in the column.
6 - HUFF IS TRENDING: A Rider fan contacted me on Twitter on Wednesday asking for my support in the movement to lure John Hufnagel to Saskatchewan as Coach & GM. However I will have no part of that, and that's not an indictment of Hufnagel. One of the umpteen things Eric Tillman has taught me over the years is, "Don't ever throw your support behind someone for a hiring with your team," Tillman warned. "Because if your guy doesn't get hired, then the guy that does will know he didn't have your support all along."
Do I think Jeremy O'Day will get the Rider GM job? Yes. Would I like that to happen? Yes. However I'm not outright campaigning for it nor am I trying to make up anybody's mind for them.
7 - THE LATEST WILD RUMOUR: This one came right out of the blue on the weekend. I was tipped off that an American NHL team's ownership group has had at least minor explorations into landing a CFL franchise for Los Angeles. At this point I'm not prepared to say which team it is however I spoke with a club spokesman and he would not deny the rumour. Stay tuned!
8 - IN THE PADDOCK: Leader Post columnist Rob Vanstone referred to me as "an erstwhile voice of the Pats in 1999" in his Thursday morning column when discussing Pats coach John Paddock's crack at the Roughriders last week. I had to look up the term erstwhile and this is what I found: "former; of times past". Rob's correct. I'll leave the wordssmithing to him.
Anyway, Paddock took the lighthearted jab at the Riders last week in a news conference when he said the Pats and Warriors are the most entertaining teams in the area. He added, "Right, Rod?" as a footnote to his joke.
Later on in the lunch buffet line, Paddock continued the narrative by whispering over my shoulder, "You're covering the wrong team!"
Hasn't anyone filled him in on this story? Ask the former regime about it.
As Paddock embarks on his second season in charge of the Queen City Kids which will faceoff Thursday night in Moose Jaw (7:00 pm on 620 CKRM), I've come to greatly admire the man. He mentioned at last week's news conference that it's "neat" to be a part of the historic rivalry between the Moose Jaw Warriors and Regina Pats. Paddock's coached two NHL teams and is in the AHL Hall of Fame yet he's just as honoured to coach the Regina Pats.
That gets an "A" in my books.
Thursday's SportsCage will be a fun show as we broadcast live from Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw leading up to the game.
9 - THE DUB'S TOP 125: The WHL's first-ever list of its Top 125 players of all-time was a fun way to get the 2015-16 season started however as a guy who spent 17 years in the Dub, I felt the alphabetical nature of the list was a bit of a cop-out. I mean, are we anywhere closer to naming the best WHL player ever after this list was compiled?
Here are the Top 10 Regina Pats from their list:
It's tough to argue with that list of names however I'd substitute Barret Jackman for Stuart. Who's the best Dub player of all-time? I've been following the league since 1980 and would submit the names of Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla for consideration. However the silver-haired hockey followers tell me Dennis Sobchuk and Bobby Orr are the greatest junior players the game has ever seen.
Oh, and Morgan Rielly in Moose Jaw? He only played two seasons and was hurt for most of them!
Regarding the Warriors, GM Alan Millar raised eyebrows this week acquiring a pair of 20-year olds including Dryden Hunt from the Medicine Hat Tigers. Hockey insiders feel this move signals a distinct move by the Warriors to be a contender (and in the process, not dealing Brayden Point to Red Deer which was widely speculated), and a move for Millar to save his job. "Al has to make the players," one scout told me.
10 - THE COWBOY GOALIE: And finally, what a treat it was to listen to former NHL goaltender Clint Malarchuk speak at our 3rd Annual Recovery Day luncheon at the Conexus Arts Centre this week. It takes a lot of guts for Clint to stand in front of 500 people and speak of his battle with addictions, mental illness and suicide attempts (he still has a bullet lodged in his forehead from an episode years ago in Reno, NV). It was an even bigger thrill to spend some one-on-one time with the Grande Prairie product, look into his fierce eyes, and swap war stories. Clint's book The Crazy Game is available in Chapters and for someone like you and me, is a must-read. Three of the most-interesting things I learned in the book are: 1) the NHL is not a handshake league, 2) Clint named his oldest daughter Kelli after childhood friend Kelly Hrudey and, 3) always invite your Mom to your wedding even if it's your fourth!
THAT'S ALL! HOPE YOU ENJOYED ...